Building Bonds with Your Grandchildren
What does your grandson do in his spare time ... and what is your granddaughter's favorite subject in school? If you're a little fuzzy on the details of your grandkids' lives, you're due for a catch-up visit.
But this time, make it one-on-one, just the two of you. Experts say getting to know each grandchild personally by planning special activities for two strengthens the bond you share. It also builds memories you'll both recall fondly for a lifetime.
Any one-to-one "alone" time with your grandchildren is time well-spent, says Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting (http://www.grandparenting.org) and author of grandparenting books such as "The Grandparent Guide."
"The bond between grandparent and grandchild is what I call the 'vital connection,'" he says. "This vital connection is built on two things: a grandparent's unconditional love plus undivided, individual attention."
Spending dedicated time with your grandchildren enables you to play many roles in their lives, including family historian, teacher, and spiritual guide, Dr. Kornhaber explains. "Grandchildren are hard-wired to absorb the special knowledge of their grandparents. This knowledge cannot be learned in school or from the media. It is knowledge that only a grandparent can pass on."
Be a self-esteem booster
Time spent alone with grandma or grandpa also "tells a child he or she is special and deserving of adult attention," says social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of several family relationship books. That adult attention can be hard to get otherwise, especially in a household where mom and dad work long hours and care for more than one child.
Even if your grandchildren live far away, make it a point to have "grandparents and grandkids only" time whenever you visit. A few moments spent discussing how things are going in your grandchild's life—both the good and the not-so-good—can mean the world to a youngster.
Do you praise your grandkids often and rarely criticize? "That alone is a self-esteem booster," Dr. Newman observes. "Being alone with a grandparent gives the child a chance to shine, a chance to demonstrate his or her uniqueness. In short, a grandparent's love adds an extra dimension of security for a child, in a world that is spinning faster and faster."
What can you do?
You don't need expensive toys or exotic trips to make an impression on your grandkids. In fact, "Grandparents don't have to do anything but just hang out," Dr. Kornhaber says. Watching a movie, playing cards, eating, cooking, or building something—any side-by-side activity works fine.
"Things done in nature—taking a walk, swimming, or canoeing—are especially good for building closeness and encouraging children to open up," he adds.
"For all of history, grandchildren and grandparents have hung out together to bring joy to each other," he says. "Whenever you can go off and be alone, love and attachment flourish."
Pick your moment
"By definition, grandparents have a job: to make the next generation—your children's children—feel loved, adored, and cherished," Dr. Newman writes in her book "Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories With Your Grandchildren."
Want to build more meaningful, close relationships with your grandkids? Here are some of Dr. Newman's ideas to help you create special one-on-one moments:
Cook's assistant. Make your grandchild your "right-hand assistant" when preparing meals. She can beat the eggs, place the chairs around the table, or fill the breadbasket. Match the activities to the child's age.
Stargaze. Sit in the backyard together and point out constellations.
Play dress-up. Keep a box filled with old clothing, hats, and shoes so your grandchildren can pretend-play when they visit. Offer to lend them what they need for parades, costume parties, and parts in plays.
Surf the Web. Sit down at the computer and research a subject together, whether it's dinosaurs or a special vacation spot. You can polish up on computer skills at the same time.
Get picky. Find a local orchard or berry patch that allows fruit-picking and gather fresh apples, peaches, strawberries, or blueberries. Take home your bounty and bake it into a dessert.
Free tutor. Assist or tutor your grandchild in school subjects you know well.
Person-to-person calling. Telephone your grandson's house just to speak to him. When you're done chatting, hang up. You'll call another time to speak to his parents. This time, he's the special one.